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A Paipo Interview with Ian Peden

Bodysurfing to bellyboarding

A Paipo Interview with Ian Peden
September 20, 2010. Coomba Park, New South Wales, Australia
Questions and e-mail interview by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Ian Peden and Dennis Markson.

Ian was a bodysurfer from Maroubra in the 1960s who began riding and experimenting with ply bellyboards. Along with some of his friends he was featured in a 1965 Surfing World article, one of the few articles with bellyboard content.
1. When did you start bodysurfing? Where was this?
Not certain as growing up in Maroubra and not far from the surf I was always at the beach and I guess as soon as I was able to swim with some confidence I expect I was in the surf, so age 6 or 7. Of course this would have been just catching breakers into the beach. In the early years bodysurfing generally meant catching waves into the beach and avoiding getting dumped. However the better surfers, generally from the surf club, also would try and "corner the wave," take off on a wave with a peak and ride the shoulder. Variations on standard bodysurfing (arms held along the sides) involved arms in front with hands linked into a planning surface, One arm in front with the hand planning with the other used as a paddling arm, the use of a handboard (usually a shaped ply board with a strap to hold the hand in place).

My mates and I were into cornering waves when we were around 10 or 11 and the break we favoured best was off the stormwater drain where there is a bit of a reef bottom that shapes the banks. The other favoured break was the north point where the rocks also play a big part in shaping the break.

Ian and John Dunn at Bawley Point in the 1960s. Photo Lindsay Harold.
2. Why did you first get into bellyboards? How old were you at the time?
I don't know exactly, I guess we saw the Club guys with their semi handboard/chest board and had used "surfoplanes" and figured we would try a larger ply board. It was something different to do in the surf and they were more manoeuvrable around the rocks. I was around 13 or 14 years old, so around 1956/57.
3. Who else did you ride bellyboards with? Were you involved with the lifesavers at the time?
The guys I grew up with, went to school with, and hung out with. The same guys I was still surfing with 10 years later on. I had a few friends in Maroubra Surf Club and occasionally surfed with them although they were more into club competitions and also were board paddlers and riders of 16 foot hollow boards -- the pre-balsa/ fibreglass revolution.

Ian, John Dunn & Paul Kohler at Bawley Point in the 1960s. Photo Lindsay Harold.

Lindsay Harold - Great Barrier Island in the 1960s. Photo John Holden.

4. When you first started were there other bellyboards or prone surfing craft around?
"Surfoplanes" were the popular surf aid for prone surfing and of course you could hire them at the beach so they were a cheap way for people to get the thrill of riding a wave to the beach.
5. Robert McDermott introduced bellyboards to the Gold Coast around 1965. Did you ride the same type of boards? If not, what was the inspiration for the boards you rode and how did you make them?
The board that Robert McDermott is carrying in the photo is pretty much like the boards we were riding in the early years at Maroubra. They were easy to make, marine ply cut to the shape you fancied and then coated with marine varnish; handles, grab rail, fins etc added if you were so inclined. I preferred to use the board without handles as they tended to get in the way when you positioned your hands to get the best trim and the board was easy to grab and pull through the back of the wave. If you did get pounded the board usually popped up not far from you. My early boards were without fin/s as you could generally hold into the wave face.

Pictured to the right is Dennis Markson with a 'skimmer' ca. 1968/1969. Photo courtesy of Dennis Markson.

6. Did you experiment with design much - for example, try fins, thicker boards, different shapes?
I made a few different designs over the years, longer, thicker (5ply), kick-up in the nose, different shapes and fins of different types.

Ian's most recent board. The board measures 35.5 inches x 23.5 inches (900mm x 600mm) and 11-3/4 inches across the nose and a 7-inch tail (300mm and 180mm). It is 3-ply.

Ian's most recent board. Bottom view showing single fin.
"I think I made that board in late 70s with that fin fibre-glassed in place".


7. How important was flex to the boards you rode?
I prefer to use a board with flex as I find them more responsive and I believe this is as a result of being able to get more variation in your centre of gravity on the board as opposed to a stiff board where the centre of gravity is more evenly spread. The result is more speed out of bottom turns and greater manoeuvrability on the wave. The big difference in body boarding vs stand up or knee boards; where the centre of gravity is much more varied based on feet placement and upper body movement.
8. What type of wave did your boards go best in?
On waves with a long wall and not super hollow the original style of board without fin/s was extremely fast in a straight line but as I found out on a number of occasions when the wave was large and hollow a fin was an advantage in holding the best position.

Ian down the south coast, 1966. Photo by Dennis Markson.

Ian down the south coast, 1966. Photo by Dennis Markson.

Ian going left at Bawley Point. Photo by Lindsay Harold.

9. Are there any waves or surfs that still stand out that you rode on your bellyboard?

My most memorable day in the early years was at South Maroubra c1960 after school, westerly howling offshore and lines of perfect hollow waves much too fast for the body but great with the body board.

North Avalon on the days when the takeoff was out from the point, the waves big and rides that you could make half way down the beach.

Newport Reef on a couple of big days with a vertical takeoff and long right hand walls. Just a couple days that stick in the mind.

10. What was the attraction of a bellyboard to you? Is there much connection between bellyboarding and bodysurfing?
Initially it was just something different to do but as stand-up boards became shorter, faster and more manoeuvrable it was getting harder to get good body waves. A bellyboard could compete with the boards and you could takeoff further on the inside than on the body.

Using a belly board is somewhat like body surfing in that you get the same perspective of the wave and the use of your swim fins and body positioning determine placement in the wave. However bodysurfing is more at one with the wave; you're part of it, connected, you feel every aspect through your body. A great wave surfed on the body is unbeatable.

Aden Parsons planing on the body at Little Avalon. May 1964. Photo Dennis Markson.

11. Did you see many other bellyboarders around?
Very few other than my mates; at Little Avalon in the early 60s we surfed a couple of times with a local who used a bellyboard and much later I used to see Dick Ash at Avalon with his Bellybogger.

I moved with my wife to Avalon in 1970 and most of my surfing was then with Dick Evans or on my own (of course with a host of boardriders) and we either surfed on the body or Dick rode a kneeboard and I rode a bellyboard.

Dick Evans bodysurfing in the 1970s. Photo Ian Peden.

12. What was the story behind the Surfing World article. How did you get to be involved?
Once our group became mobile with a car we started checking out surfing spots up and down the beaches and on one of our trips around 1962 we stopped at Avalon to check out the surf, on the road above Little Avalon and looked down on lines of waves breaking on this little reef with perfect hollow tubes and so began our love affair with LA or The Bin (as we called it borrowed from the name of the Hawaiian break The Garbage Hole which was also an extremely hollow wave).

Initially we surfed LA on our own and on one of our visits we were joined in the surf by an Avalon surfer on a belly board and a couple of other locals Rick & John Howell and Bob Comeys on the body and using hand boards. Dick Evans had heard about LA and joined us in the surf and John Pennings a friend of the local guys who was keen on surf photography and was writing articles for the magazines was on hand and captured one of the great days which was then featured in Surfing World. We told the North side guys about our favourite spot at home which was Lurline Bay where we had the surf to ourselves when it was working (big southerly swell and SW wind) and John Pennings got some photos on a reasonable (not great) day and wrote another article for SW with the classic photo of my mate Adin Parsons being the centre spread.

Pennings, John. (1965, May). New South Coast Discovery: Wilinga Reef. Surfing World, 6(2), pp. 13-16.  Photo by John Pennings.


Pennings, John. (1965, May). New South Coast Discovery: Wilinga Reef. Surfing World, 6(2), pp. 13-16.  Photo by John Pennings.


Later on we organised a trip down the coast with the guys and that then became the article which had the bellyboard photos.

13. Were there many other articles on bellyboarding?
I recall a few articles in the magazines but not very often, it was like bodysurfing something to add for novelty value, although on the rare occasions when body surfing or bellyboard/paipo riding was featured in a surf movie the audience was generally stoked as they tended to be classic rides. LA was featured in one of Bob Evans' films, but subsequently the film was destroyed in a fire at the production house.
14. When did you stop riding a bellyboard? When was this? Any particular reason?
When the first Boogie Boards came out I thought they might be the revolutionary board that would replace the belly board. However the first Boogie boards were slow and far too flexible so although I bought one it didn't get ridden much and I kept with the belly board until the bodyboards improved in the 90s.
15. You tried Morey boogieboards - when was this and how did they ride compared to the boards you made?
As I noted, when Boogie boards came out in the early 70s I tried them but found the performance wanting but when they added a slick bottom to the board the performance had a dramatic improvement so I guess during the 80s I was regularly riding my Boogie board and less on the bellyboard except for big surf where the bellyboard had better performance. In the 90s the bodyboards being manufacture had improved being thinner, stiffer slick bottom and from that point I have hardly used my belly board. In 96 on a surfing holiday in Hawaii with my son I used a Mike Stewart model Morey Boogie at Pipeline and Sunset and was very pleased with the performance.

Ian (inside) at Pipeline in 1996, on a boogie board. Photo by Luke Peden.

16. Any other comments on bellyboarding?
Great to see the interest that you have generated amongst enthusiasts who love the feeling of prone surfing.

Feel free to send me suggestions, comments and additional information to: The Paipo Interviews

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Last updated on: 12/28/10